This is Majors’ film, through and through. It’s his arrival on the big stage, and he does not waste the opportunity.
Director Jeymes Samuel
Screenplay Jeymes Samuel, Boaz Yakin
Starring Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, Zazie Beetz, Regina King, Delroy Lindo, Lakeith Stanfield, RJ Cyler, Danielle Deadwyler, Edi Gathegi, Deon Cole
It’s been since Unforgiven that we’ve seen such a massive collection of talent for a Western. The acting skill in The Harder They Fall is an intersection of the past, present and future of actors with gravitas to spare. Of the latter, I got on board to this story based on the inclusion of Stanfield, Beetz and Majors. Seeing Elba, King and Lindo is all icing on the cake.
Jonathan Majors is Nat Love, a man who became an outlaw because of Idiris Elba’s Rufus Buck. How this happens requires that Love and his gang pursue Buck and his gang, which has become the town of Redwood. There are levels of ruthlessness, and the point to a film such as this is to establish which leader will rise to the top and which one will fall. Hard.
For his part, Rufus Buck is a role made for Elba. His eyes hold no warmth but reveal and endless calculation. His newly pardoned leader of a gang of robbers made into a town is in need of money. This money has been taken from him by Love’s gang. Love is after more than Buck’s money.
The story is not a typical revenge saga, but it has plenty of revenge to go around. The plot is filled with standoffs that arrive not where one expects, but definitely where they need. There are so many opportunities for scenery chewing and none are wasted. In particular, the scene with Angela King telling the story of Hope while carving an apple with a knife stands out for it’s surpising depth.
That’s the kind of film we have, though. That Stanfield is relegated, like King, to a foot soldier instead of the main draw gives us the chance to see top notch acting at every level. Both of them get their moments to shine and they give others even better moments.
The way Samuel teases the big moments is demonstrated with the polish of a director much more seasoned than one working his first full feature film. Part of this is due no doubt to the skill of cinematography of Mihai Mălaimare Jr., to be sure.
Nothing can top the depth of the layered conversations between Majors and Elba. The last act, punctuated by the vision of Elba from his window all the way to Majors in front of the church is one for the ages. This is the prelude to one of the best gunfights ever witnessed in a Western. It all gives way to a truly memorable showdown with an incredible twist.
This is Majors’ film, through and through. It’s his arrival on the big stage, and he does not waste the opportunity. He stands shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Lindo and his nemesis, Elba and he grabs the spotlight through a remarkable assured and vulnerable performance. He will be a household name soon. That moment can’t come soon enough.
(***** out of *****)